Big Daisy, formed in Lichfield in Staffordshire in early 1978, is a very good example for a more or less prototypical New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band. Mervyn Spence (vocals, bass), Roger Fox (guitars) and Deg Newman (drums) produced one 7" single, played locally and then disbanded after a few years. Nowadays, however, their superb single “Footprints on the Water” (coupled with “Fever”), issued on the collectible Ellie Jay label in an iconic picture sleeve in 1980, rates as one of the top N.W.O.B.H.M. rarities. Merv Spence himself can't hide the pride in his voice: “I feel astonished, privileged and knocked out! I was offered £ 300 from a guy in Japan a long time ago but as it was the last remaining copy I kept it.” Very understandable, that is. As already mentioned, today “Footprints on the Water” is a small part of metal history.
Even before the single was released in 1980, Big Daisy had already demoed tracks such as "U.F.O.", "Gypsy Queen", "Day of the Damned" and "Look to the East". Merv takes over the story: “Yes, we used to rehearse in an old chicken shed on a farm just outside Lichfield. We did all the backing tracks and guitar parts and we recorded my vocals in the toilet of my flat. Natural reverb! Another track on the Big Daisy first recordings is called 'Killing me'. Date of recording 8th of March 1980 and mixed on 20th of March 1980. On this song I use an effects pedal called 'bass balls'.” Luckily, you can now hear all five mentioned songs on the High Roller Big Daisy album.
In 1980, Big Daisy decided to release the two numbers “Footprints on the Water” and “Fever” as a single via Ellie Jay Records. 1,000 copies were pressed and they all went within a single week! Merv has some background information on Ellie Jay: “It was the pressing plant's own label, which was set up to accommodate new acts. We knew nothing about the business so it was an easy option. They were based in London.”
Ellie Jay also released singles by Bashful Alley, Bollweevil, Jodey, Suspect and Sean T. Wright and rates as one of the most collectible N.W.O.B.H.M. related labels. The mentioned Bashful Alley were no strangers to Big Daisy: “We were friends on the local music scene. They loved the Big Daisy single and I think went to the same studio in Leamington. Producer on Big Daisy was John Rivers.”
Some reviewers have compared Big Daisy's style to Rush and Merv thinks that this is a fair comparism: “Absolutely, I was a massive Rush fan and the whole three piece thing really appealed to us as a band. I wanted the Taurus pedals but could not afford to buy them so I bought a Moog Prodigy which I use on the beginning of 'UFO'.”
As the Big Daisy single is such a collectible item, it was to be reckoned with that a bootleg copy would appear sooner or later. It took quite some time but a few years back an illegal Big Daisy 10" appeared (supposedly) in Argentina. Understandably, Merv Spence is not too happy about that: “I am a big believer in musicians being paid fair and square for their craft and talent. If the bootleggers were to share the money made, then that would be okay. It's wrong as we are in danger of killing off the music industry.”
Some time after the release of the Big Daisy single, the line up of the band changed. Guitarist Roger Fox left to be substituted by Tim Rowe. “They were two completely different guitarists”, says Merv Spence. “Roger had a lighter approach where as Tim was much heavier. Vocally things did not change as it was me, but Tim did attempt to do some numbers.” Around late 1981 the band's name was changed to Jury. Jury was the more or less direct follow up to Big Daisy. With "Don't go" they landed a spot on Ebony's "Metallic Storm" compilation, which was released in 1982. “We paid them to be a part of the album”, is what Merv remembers. “I think we were given a number of albums. I know the guy made a lot of money out of his catalogue. I suppose we did have hopes to sign a proper album deal with Ebony but I am glad we did not.”
Back then, the Jury number "Having a Party" was chosen to be the A-side of a possible single but the venture was never put into action. According to Merv Spence a full-length Jury album was also a possibility but apart from demoing a couple of tracks nothing much else happened: “We did quite a few demos and finding the old masters is amazing as I am hearing stuff we forgot about.“ The mentioned “Having a Party” and “Don't go” by Jury can be heard on vinyl for the first time on this High Roller album.
Over the years, Merv Spence offered his vocal talents to a couple of bands, e.g. the reformed Black Country heroes Trapeze (the brainchild of one certain Glenn Hughes). Jury finally split up when he left for good to join Wishbone Ash: “Jury had just finished in the studio and I was in London speaking with labels and I got a call that Wishbone Ash were after a new bass player.”
Merv Spence himself never left the music business and he worked for big bands such as Trapeze, Phenomena and the mentioned Wishbone Ash … That's quite an astonishing list! “Thank you for that compliment”, he says. “But I think I could have done more musically but the industry turned its back on rock in the UK in the 1990's so I started working as a music producer and manager. I was also trying to find myself musically and recorded several solo albums. My company also owns the entire copyright to Phenomena which sold 1.2 million copies. I am developing this at the moment as a rock opera for the European market which is where it was very successful. I also did three albums with Face Face and Purple Cross and performed on both the single and the charity album Lenny MacDowell 'Project Lost Paradise'. Parachute Music is the name of my company and it still is part of a group I own. It was set up purely for Phenomena and solo work.”